From The Beacon: Stories come alive in epistolary fiction

The "Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" by Mary Ann Shaffer is a novel that takes place after the horrible events of World War II have taken their toll on the British.

But although this work of historical fiction does a splendid job of educating readers about some facets of the war, the tone of the book is actually very hopeful and light. It is told in the form of personal letters between characters, a genre known as epistolary fiction. Epistolary fiction can be a marvelous way of being drawn into a story and, if you're a fan, you might want to check out these novels as well.

In "Gilead" by Marilynne Robinson, 77-year-old preacher John Ames has decided he should write a letter about his life as a legacy to his young son, a 6-year-old from his second marriage. It is a moving account of life in small town Iowa in the early 20th century, that is, in the words of one critic, "a meditation on fathers and children, particularly sons, on faith and on the imperfectability of man."

"The Lacuna," by Barbara Kingsolver, also takes place in the early 20th century. It is told in a series of letters and newspaper clippings highlighting the fictional life of Harrison Shepherd, a writer who worked for the communist party with Frida Kahlo and Leon Trotsky in Mexico and finds himself in the center of the red scare a decade later in America. The story is full of little-known history that brings its larger-than-life characters into living color.

For a more modern novel, you might want to try Stephen Chbosky's "The Perks of Being a Wallflower." Proving that letter writing isn't a dead art with Generation X, Charlie writes to an unknown recipient about being a high school sophomore. Dealing with the suicide of a friend, the pressure to do drugs and have a girlfriend, and trying to avoid the "thuggish" football team leave the 15-year-old on the brink of collapse. But he soldiers on and faces his future with his head held high.

Finally, if you're looking for lighter fare, try "Who Moved my Blackberry" by Lucy Kellaway. Told in a series of e-mails, this novel traces a year in the life of office worker Martin Lukes, a man who, in trying to achieve the best, ends up doing the worst. He insults his boss, becomes overshadowed by his wife's success and loses his Blackberry, which still has steamy e-mails saved on it from his lover/secretary. Fans of the TV show "The Office" (or anyone who has ever worked in an office) will love laughing their way through this book. Whether you think of letters as a way of saying "I love you" or just a way to let off steam when everything seems to be going wrong, settle in with one of these books available at your Beaufort County Public Library branch.